State social workers have been instructed that it is not OK for boys in group homes to have sex together even if the activity is “consensual,” a Senate committee was told Thursday.
Social and Health Services Secretary Jean Soliz said social workers “made a horrible mistake” in 1992 when they failed to pursue reports of sexual activity among boys at the now-shut-down OK Boys Ranch after being told all the boys willingly engaged in the acts.
As it turned out, the sexual activity amounted to rape of younger boys by older ones at the home for abused and troubled youngsters.
But even if that were not the case, “there should have been zero tolerance” for the behavior, Soliz told a hearing conducted jointly by the Senate Justice, Human Services and Health committees.
“Absolutely not,” Soliz responded when Sen. Kevin Quigley, D-Lake Stevens, asked: “Is consensual sex between little boys OK?”
The Child Protective Services supervisors who made the call at the OK Boys Ranch have since retired, but those now in positions of authority have been told that sexual activity of any kind is not to be tolerated, she said.
The adjustment in departmental policy was among few revelations at a hearing called to focus on what went wrong at the home, which was closed in September 1994. State and Thurston County investigators have since documented widespread sexual and physical abuse at the facility.
The OK Boys Ranch was operated by the Kiwanis Club of Olympia, under contract to the state.
Three former top officials at the home were charged last week with second-degree criminal mistreatment, a felony, for failing to protect boys from abuse by other boys.
The Washington State Patrol is investigating whether DSHS officials failed to do their jobs.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire, whose office is prosecuting the three OK Boys Ranch officials, declined to answer any questions about the home, saying to do so would jeopardize the case.
In her appearance before the Senate panels, Gregoire focused on recommendations she issued a few weeks ago on how to tighten procedures to ensure that children in group and foster homes are better protected.
She called for more resources, including more social workers to keep up with caseloads, and for more clearly spelling out job descriptions.
The House has scheduled further hearings on the matter in mid-December.
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